Surrounded by Girls

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day Two

California ablaze

Day two and it's still the same blue skies over our heads. It's really disconcerting. All the news is of evacuations and homes burning -- it's reminiscent of Katrina as much as (I don't feel comfortable comparing this to Katrina. The scale and gravity of the situation just isn't on par with what happened to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast... and hopefully won't approach it either) the Cedar Fire here four years ago. Over 300,000 people are out of their homes, including many of our friends and colleagues. Most everyone we know who had to move out are with family or friends and report to be okay. They are evacuating people to Qualcomm Stadium which is about five miles from our house.

Meanwhile, our biggest problems are finding something for the girls to do and for me, I've got a computer that needs a little TLC to keep from crashing. They are continuing to work on our house. We're getting a new fence and little things fixed here and there. Normal life. Emma and I even met a friend and co-worker who lives here in North Park for coffee.

If you look at the satellite image above, the two fires in the center of the image are the Witch Creek Fire (the northern one) and the Harris Ranch fire to the south. We live just to the east of Coronado Island which is the little white spit of land that you can see on the coast in between the two plumes of smoke.

Keeping this relatively short as the computer has crashed several times in attempting to post this. But we're fine.

Update: It's 5 o'clock now and the computer seems to have settled down. Over the last hour or so, it's gotten progressively smoky. I actually think that's a good sign. Look at the satellite image again. Those cloud "plumes" are really compact and heading straight out over the ocean. That means the winds were REALLY STRONG and blowing from the desert. Classic Santa Ana conditions. Joan Didion wrote a must-read essay about these "persistent malevolent winds":

Easterners commonly complain that there is no "weather" at all in Southern California, that the days and the seasons slip by relentlessly, numbingly bland. That is quite misleading. In fact the climate is characterized by infrequent but violent extremes: two periods of torrential subtropical rains which continue for weeks and wash out the hills and send subdivisions sliding toward the sea; about twenty scattered days a year of the Santa Ana, which, with its incendiary dryness, invariably means fire. At the first prediction of a Santa Ana, the Forest Service flies men and equipment from northern California into the southern forests, and the Los Angeles Fire Department cancels its ordinary non-firefighting routines. The Santa Ana caused Malibu to burn as it did in 1956, and Bel Air in 1961, and Santa Barbara in 1964. In the winter of 1966-67 eleven men were killed fighting a Santa Ana fire that spread through the San Gabriel Mountains.

Just to watch the front-page news out of Los Angeles during a Santa Ana is to get very close to what it is about the place. The longest single Santa Ana period in recent years was in 1957, and it lasted not the usual three or four days but fourteen days, from November 21 until December 4. On the first day 25,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains were burning, with gusts reaching 100 miles an hour. In town, the wind reached Force 12, or hurricane force, on the Beaufort Scale; oil derricks were toppled and people ordered off the downtown streets to avoid injury from flying objects. On November 22 the fire in the San Gabriels was out of control.

If it's hazy here now, I'm hoping that means the winds have died down or even better, that they're starting to come from the ocean inland, rather than the reverse.